Wednesday, October 03, 2007
ALDS #1: Anaheim Angels vs. Boston Red Sox … This will probably we the toughest and hardest fought series of the post-season. The Angels and Red Sox are probably the best teams in the American League actually, so the winner of this series is going to beat the winner of ALDS #2 pretty handily in my opinion.
I love the Red Sox and want them to take the series. How tantalizing does a Cubs – Red Sox World Series sound? Or Phillies – Red Sox series? They are the best team, on paper in the A.L. They outscored their opposition by 210 runs in 2007, which would have given them a 102-60 Pythagorean Win-Loss record, had it not been for their 35-38 record in games decided by one or two runs. The Red Sox are strong everywhere: pitching, fielding and at the plate.
Offensively the Red Sox ranked second in the American League in OBP (.362), just .004 behind the Yankees. They were third in the A.L. in runs scored. What was interesting to me was that they hit just 166 home runs in 2007, just eighth in the AL, and far fewer than the 192 they hit in 2006. They’ve got power and they work counts and they score runs. Even with J.D. Drew struggling as he has (hey J.D., the Red Sox aren’t paying you $14 million bucks to hit eleven home runs and 64 RBI), and with Manny riding the pine, the Red Sox are a power thanks to Big Papi himself, David Ortiz: 35 Home Runs, 117 RBI, 116 Runs Scored, .445 OBP, 111 walks, 52 doubles. Ortiz 138 Runs Created ranked him third in the American League. He’s carrying the Red Sox offense along with Mike Lowell (21 Home Runs, 120 RBI). This is a very different team from the 2004 World Series champs, who were deep 1 thru 9 and could hurt you anywhere. The 2007 Red Sox are the Big Papi show. They need him to come up big to win against the Angels.
The Red Sox have a solid pitching staff: Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40 ERA), Tim Wakefield (17-12, 4.76 ERA) and Curt Schilling (9-8, 3.87 ERA) have all been solid, but Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA), has been the team’s ace this season. Beckett’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly five-to-one (194 to 40, 4.85 K/BB). Beckett has really done a nice job this season, lowering his home runs allowed from 36 to 17 (or 1.60 HR/9 vs. 0.80 HR/9 in 2007), and upping his strikeout rate from 158 to 194 (or 7.0 K/9 vs. 9.1 K/9 in 2007).
The Red Sox bullpen is a bit of a mess: Eric Gagne won’t be allowed on the mound to pitch unless he’s moping up with a massive lead after all of the struggles he’s had in 2007. Jonathan Papelbon has been great (37 of 40 in saves), but the rest of the Red Sox bullpen feels leaky. Terry Francona will put his career in jeopardy if he puts Eric Gagne on the mound.
I have to admire the Angels. I shouldn’t – they are a team committed to small-ball baseball – but I do. I love their aggressiveness on the field. I love how well they run the bases. The Angels are a template for the future of baseball: teams committed to speed and timely hitting as opposed to power-hitting Moneyball. With the decline in power-hitting as an offensive strategy and the focus on steroids, the Angels are the team of the future.
The Angels are aggressive running the bases: their 139 steals are second in the AL, five behind the Orioles. They have four people with 18 or more steals in their lineup. They are quick and tough to catch. But the key for the Angels is, and will always be, Valdimir Guerrero. Vlad had 25 home runs and 125 RBIs and is the vital cog in the Angels lineup. His 126 Runs Created are 31 more than Orlando Cabrera. Without Vald, the Angels offense would probably grind to a halt. If Beckett, Wakefield and K-Dice can shut Vlad down, the Red Sox will win.
The Angels pitching staff is deep and tough. John Lackey (19-9, 3.01 ERA), Kelvin Escobar (18-7, 3.40 ERA) and Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91 ERA) are all young, tough starters who are more than a match for the Red Sox hurlers. The Angels bullpen, led by Francisco Rodriguez, is tough.
Defensively the Angels aren’t so good: their .681 Defense Efficiency Ratio and -49 Plus / Minus rating are both well below the league average. While Vlad is a terror in right field – you don’t want to run on him – the rest of the Angels defensive alignment is surprisingly weak. The Red Sox are much better defensively: their +32 was second in the AL to the Oakland A’s at +35, and they allowed the fewest unearned runs in the major leagues: 39.
While I think the differences between the Red Sox and Angels are relatively even at the plate and the Red Sox are the better fielders, I think the Angels younger pitching staff gives them the edge. How well can each side’s pitching staff handle the other side’s key player? If Vlad hits well, the Angels will win. If Big Papi hits well, the Red Sox will win. I’m betting on Vlad.
Prediction: Angels in five.
ALDS #2: New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians … The Yankees were the talk of baseball for the second half of the season thanks to their exceptional surge after their 21-29 start, going 73-39 the rest of the way. The Yankees are an interesting team and I wonder how this will all shake out. They scored 968 runs this season, nearly six per game. This is a team that can score runs and has done surprisingly well on the mound.
Offensively the Yankees led the AL in pretty much everything: runs scored, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and Home Runs. They also stole a lot of bases (123) and hit well with runners in scoring position (.293 BA/RISP, second in the AL). This is a fearsome lineup: they have six players with 90+ Runs Created. Six! A-Rod in particular has been amazing this season with 54 Home Runs and 156 RBI. Clearly A-Rod is the 2007 A.L. MVP. No player has been dynamic or has paced his team's attack more. Top-to-bottom, there isn’t a weak-link in the Yankees lineup.
The Yankees pitching is a patch-work of new faces and old ones. Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera. Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain. Don't ask me how Joe Torre did it, but he put together a pitching staff that survived a hellish regular season and made it to the playoffs.
I look at the Cleveland Indians and I see a team that looks a lot like the Detroit Tigers team that upset the Yankees in last season's ALDS 3-1. The 2007 Indians led the American League in FIP ERA at 4.12, much better than the Yankees 4.59. C.C. Sabathia is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is clearly better than anything that the Yankees have to throw up there. The Indians are deep at the plate too with Travis Hafner (24 Home Runs, 100 RBI) and the rest of the Tribe's offense. While the Indians aren't anywhere near as explosive at the plate as the Yankees, they are better on the mound and that is going to be decisive factor.
Prediction: Indians in four.